May 19, 2015

1985: Outlaws Control the Ball to Defeat Breakers, End Losing Streak

The Arizona Outlaws had lost six straight games as they traveled to Portland to take on the Breakers, losers of their last five contests, in a United States Football League game on May 19, 1985. A combination of 1984’s Oklahoma Outlaws and Arizona Wranglers, the team was coached by Frank Kush, formerly of Arizona State, and had an established veteran in QB Doug Williams (pictured above) to direct the offense. But after getting off to a 4-2 start, which included a win over Portland in the opener, the losing streak had them struggling at 4-8.

The Breakers were also at 4-8 after having lost their last two games by a combined score of 59-7. Coached by Dick Coury, the club was not as proficient on offense as it had been in Boston and New Orleans, its previous locations. The Breakers missed the retired John Walton at quarterback and the situation was not helped by the loss of promising RB Marcus Dupree with a knee injury in the opening week.

There were 15,275 fans in attendance at Civic Stadium. The Breakers had the game’s first possession and drove down the field, but an apparent nine-yard touchdown run by RB Buford Jordan was nullified by a holding penalty and the Breakers came up empty when Tim Mazzetti was unsuccessful on a 49-yard field goal attempt.

On Portland’s next series, Jordan fumbled the ball away at his 22 yard line. Arizona took advantage as RB Reggie Brown ran for a 13-yard TD with four minutes remaining in the first quarter and Luis Zendejas added the extra point.

As the contest entered the second quarter, the Outlaws added to the lead on their next series that culminated in Doug Williams tossing a pass to WR Greg Anderson for a 12-yard TD. Zendejas again successfully converted to increase the margin to 14-0. Before the first half was over, Zendejas added two field goals, from 22 and 26 yards, which boosted the visitors to a 20-0 lead at the intermission.

Portland QB Matt Robinson suffered an elbow injury during the first half and didn’t come back for the second half. Meanwhile, Arizona started the third quarter with a 68-yard drive and Williams threw to TE Ron Wheeler for a four-yard touchdown.

Ahead by 27-0, Arizona had to endure a strong comeback by the Breakers with backup QB Kevin Starkey directing the offense. Starkey, who had been signed as a free agent a few weeks earlier, was seeing his first action of the season.

The Outlaws reached paydirt on a Starkey pass to WR Ron Johnson that covered 35 yards for a TD late in the third quarter. The try for extra point failed. Now in the final period, Starkey struck again, throwing over the middle to Jordan on a touchdown play that covered 80 yards. This time Mazzetti added the point after and, with 12:36 remaining, the Arizona lead was cut to 27-13.

Needing to keep the ball away from Starkey and the suddenly hot Breakers, the Outlaws helped themselves with a long, ten-minute drive that ended with a 33-yard Zendejas field goal, which in essence clinched the win. Starkey came back to complete a TD pass covering 13 yards to RB Dwight Beverly, but there were only 53 seconds left on the clock. Arizona came away the winner by a final score of 30-21.

The Outlaws dominated in time of possession (41:44 to 18:16) and that translated into a lead in total yards of 348 to 256 plus a 21 to 14 edge in first downs. Arizona recorded five sacks, to one by the Breakers, and Portland suffered the game’s only turnover. However, the Outlaws also were penalized seven times while just two flags were thrown on the Breakers.

Doug Williams completed 17 of 28 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns while giving up no interceptions. RB Mack Boatner led Arizona’s effective ground game with 86 yards on 17 carries and Reggie Brown contributed 63 yards on 15 attempts. Greg Anderson had five pass receptions for 83 yards.

For the Breakers, Kevin Starkey was successful on 7 of 12 throws for 187 yards and three TDs with no pickoffs after relieving Matt Robinson, who was six-of-10 for 67 yards. Ron Johnson topped the club with three catches for 76 yards and a score while WR Marion Brown and RB Louis Jackson also had three receptions apiece, for 41 and 22 yards, respectively. Buford Jordan rushed for 35 yards on 9 attempts.

“Our main philosophy is to keep control of the ball, and that’s just what we did,” explained Coach Kush of Arizona.

The Outlaws lost badly to the Houston Gamblers the next week but then reeled off three straight wins on the way to an 8-10 record and fourth place finish in the Western Conference. Portland won its next game and ended up at 6-12 and fifth in the conference.

The 1985 season was the last for Kevin Starkey, who spent most of his brief pro career in the Canadian Football League. His performance against the Outlaws was the highlight of the year as he completed 16 of 33 passes for 287 yards overall. The three TD passes were his entire output and he gave up two interceptions.